Fungi season announced itself at school with the arrival of some bright red, smelly stalks in a bark-mulched garden bed. These were Stinkhorns (Phallus rubicundus) and caught many a curious eye.
Closer inspection revealed other kinds of fungi growing in the same bed which has since been dubbed the Fungi Patch.
Stinkhorns grow out of the leaf litter on rainforest floors. The spores for the fungi at school have arrived in the bark mulch and will keep appearing when the conditions are just right. They grow very quickly and usually shrink and disappear by the end of the day.
Stinkhorn fungi produce spore slime, which has a yucky, rotting smell, just perfect for attracting flies. Flies and other insects land on the sticky slime and carry spores away on their feet thus spreading them to the places that they land.
Experiment: Using a magnifying glass, see how many different kinds of flies and insects land on the spore slime.
Experiment: Visit the stinkhorns in the morning and afternoon and see how quickly they grow and then collapse.
Another fungi can be seen all over this garden bed, if you look very closely. It is the Birds Nest Fungi.
Bird's nest fungi normally grow on manure or decaying wood. They have also arrived on the bark mulch and set up home at school.The spores in this fungi are held inside hard, egg-like casings called peridioles. The way they are spread is by drops of water splashing into the "nest" and causing the "eggs" to eject up to a metre away. They have a sticky case which helps them to cling on to surfaces where they land, sometimes on furniture and houses. If animals eat leaves that the spores have stuck to this will help spread the fungi even further away.
These fungi are rarely noticed because they are so small - usually less that 1cm high and wide. In this photo, the light brown ones are the newest. You can see some that have just started to open and are quite moist inside. The oldest have the black peridioles and are just waiting for a splash of water.
Experiment: try using an eye dropper to drip water into the "nest" and see if the spores eject.
There are several types of capped fungi in this garden bed too. This is the most familiar type of fungus and has very straightforward design features. The stalk holds the spores up above the damp ground and the cap keeps them dry, just like an umbrella. The spores are kept inside the gills until they're ready and then they drop to the ground to grow more fungi.
The first image shows a delicate grey fungi species (Coprinus) that are very short lived. The one on the left has already started to deteriorate.
The second picture is a small brown toadstool.
The 3rd picture shows a large mushroom that was relocated to the Fungi Patch from elsewhere in the ELA. It may not survive in the new environement but look out for it in the shade of the centre log.
The last image is of a minute capped fungi that was almost too tiny to see with your eyes.
You can read more about fungi here and see hundreds of photos of different fungi species.